F9 Composer Brian Tyler Says Character, Not Action, Drives the Score

Brian Tyler has composed music for films including “Iron Man 3” and “Crazy Rich Asians,” but perhaps his most enduring work is the music of the “Fast & Furious” franchise, which has his stamp on five of the previous films in the massive hit series.

He’s back for another ride with “F9: The Fast Saga,” along with director Justin Lin. The two joined the series together for 2006’s “Tokyo Drift.” This outing sees Lin take the film back to its central theme of family.

On the surface, while international espionage, cars, planes and even outer space propel the action, the wall-to-wall music centers on the characters, through a complex string of themes. The advantage, Tyler says, in scoring six of the franchise’s nine films is the ability to tap into those recurring motifs.

“I have themes for Letty [Michelle Rodriguez] and Dom [Vin Diesel]. There’s Han [Sung Kang] — and now there’s Dom’s brother Jakob [John Cena] in the mix; I wrote themes for all of them,” he says, adding that the method is “akin to sagas like ‘Star Wars.’”

While the score is very much grounded in old-school orchestral music, Tyler incorporates hip-hop, Latin, electronic, EDM, drum and bass and IDM (intelligent dance music) as well as tinkering with the instruments associated with each character (for instance, a Spanish guitar for Letty).

As the action shifts to Japan when Letty and Mia (Jordana Brewster) split from the team to search for Han, Tyler brings back a theme that hasn’t been heard since “Tokyo Drift.”

“It’s this nostalgia. Tokyo is Han’s getaway — the place he wants to be. The music had this combination of the sound of Japan, but combined with this bluesy feel,” Tyler says. The cool demeanor of the motif added a unique flavor so that when the women arrive in the city and that music plays, there’s a sense that Han is present.

For flashback sequences where Dom recalls his father’s days on the racetrack, Tyler combined Dom’s theme with his brother Jakob’s — cues that took on an adagio form as he brought in cellos, violas and violins. “It’s so full of emotion, regret and pain,” he says, reflecting Dom’s inner torment and conflict as he tries to move forward in life. Sonically, the cascading instruments reverberate and sound like voices in the background. “To hear something like that in the ‘Fast and Furious’ theme would take people by surprise if they didn’t know the series,” he says.

Tyler immersed Helen Mirren’s Queenie in a James Bond vibe, which he describes as “a sexy theme” with a ’60s big-band sound that matches the effortlessness of her jewel-thief persona.

Since it began, the franchise has been renowned for its powerful soundtracks. For example, “Furious 7” featured Wiz Khalifa and Charlie Puth’s “See You Again,” which has garnered more than a billion YouTube streams to date. “The songs have to blend, and it has to be a seamless handoff from one to another,” Tyler explains of the transition from the score to needle drop. “The producers are careful to make sure that the song is produced right, and we make it smooth.”

Tyler tries to match the score to the music, whether that means incorporating a drum program or a high-hat (two cymbals and a pedal) or adjusting the sound equalization.

Ultimately, the music of “F9” serves as a powerful reference for faithful fans of the franchise. “I can’t think of a movie that has this many individual themes,” he says. “All of that, emotionally, gives you that built-in nostalgia.”

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